by Jim Wunderle
"The Man in the Iron Mask"
Directed by: Randall Wallace
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeremy Irons, Gabriel Byrne, Gerard Depardieu, John Malkovich
Randall Wallace wrote the screenplay for "Braveheart," the film that won Mel Gibson an Oscar or two back in 1995. That tale was one of epic proportions, and Wallace decided to make his directorial debut with another epic that he adapted for the screen himself.
Alexander Dumas' classic "The Man in the Iron Mask" has been made a few times before, most notably by legendary director James Whale. Whale also directed the definitive versions of "Frankenstein" with Boris Karloff, and "The Invisible Man," with Claude Rains. His "The Man in the Iron Mask" set a standard for the "swashbuckling" films that followed in the magic movie year, 1939, which also saw the release of "Wuthering Heights," "The Wizard of Oz" and "Gone With the Wind."
It's interesting how every generation of Hollywood filmmakers reinvents history and even the future. Think of how the sci-fi films of the '50s and '60s portrayed "the world of tomorrow" as opposed to how that same time frame is presented today.
The same goes for things such as westerns and "the classics," and Wallace's vision of France in the time of Louis XIV and the three musketeers is straight out of Hollywood 1998.
Not that that's necessarily a bad thing. Box-office smash and teen heart-throb du jour Leonardo DiCaprio, in dual roles as the king and the title character, is a fine actor and holds his own with a formidable cast of musketeers that features Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Gabriel Byrne and Gerard Depardieu.
On this note, let's talk about the biggest flaw with the film: The powers that be seemingly made no attempt to reconcile the fact that Irons is English, Byrne Irish, Malkovich is from the American Midwest and DiCaprio is a typical California "gen-X" type.
Dialogue coach, anyone?
The only character in the film that even begins to sound like he might fit into the scenario is Depardieu who really is French, but up against the other accents his sometimes comes off like a bad Maurice Chevalier impression.
That aside, Wallace's version of this classic is pretty much fun ,and I have to admit (being one who grew up on the musketeers' movies, books, comics and TV incarnations) when, at the climax, they draw their swords and pronounce the trademark "All for one ... and one for all" line, I got more than a little choked up and teary-eyed.
For those unfamiliar with the tale, the story takes place some 30 years after the original setting of "The Three Musketeers," and finds our heroes spread out somewhat in their pursuits.
Aramis has turned to the church, Athos is raising a son who wants to join the musketeers, Porthos is eating, drinking and being merry and D'Artagnan is now captain of the musketeers and personal bodyguard of the young king.
Besides his youth, Louis XIV has a few other problems as a sovereign. He's fighting several unpopular wars and his people are literally starving, not to mention rioting, in the streets.
The opposition is being led by a covert group of Jesuits, loyal to France but determined to overthrow the selfish and spoiled young Louis.
The title character comes into play as the three musketeers get back together for the good of France. If you know the story, I don't need to bore you with the details, and if you don't ... that will make the film even more fun to watch as the tale unfolds.
DiCaprio, who was snubbed by Oscar for his role in "Titanic," won't get any awards here, either, but it's nice to see a young actor (in the top five sure-money box-office draws nowadays) who doesn't take himself so seriously and is will-
ing to stretch out into some less-than-clich?d roles for the young, hot heart-throb type.
The supporting cast, most of all Irons as Aramis, goes about its business superbly and makes "The Man in the Iron Mask" a fairly satisfying, "new fashioned" swashbuckler.
(Jim Wunderle works at Associated Video Producers and is a Springfield free-lance writer and musician.)
DiCaprio is a fine actor and holds his own with a formidable cast of musketeers.[[In-content Ad]]
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